Sisulu to meet airforce heads

2012-01-23 00:00

DEFENCE Minister Lindiwe Sisulu will meet this week with the heads of the army and airforce to discuss the recent drama around VIP flights.

She has already received an assurance from the airforce that the controversial journey by President Jacob Zuma to New York, during which his official jet was shadowed by two other jets, will be the last flight to be shadowed.

Defence spokesperson Ndivhuwo Mabaya said the airforce wanted to make certain that Zuma would arrive on time to address the United Nations in New York.

It was also the first flight by Zuma in Inkwazi, his official plane, after it underwent a major service and interior refit in Switzerland.

“That was why Inkwazi was first accompanied to Las Palmas [in the Canary islands], and then back from New York,” he said.

He did not explain why the SAA Airbus A340-211 that flew to Las Palmas, did not make the full trip to New York, or why it was necessary to send a Bombardier Global Express XRS to New York to shadow Inkwazi on the return trip.

A furore broke out around the trip last week when the Defence Department first announced that the official jet was accompanied only as far as Las Palmas. The next day, airforce chief Lieutenant-General Carlo Gagiano said the flight was actually accompanied all the way to New York, blaming the earlier statement on a misunderstanding between him and Mabaya.

Military expert Helmoed-Römer Heitman said it was understandable that last year while Inkwazi was being overhauled and chartered planes were being used for VIPs, these flights would have been shadowed.

At the time, this was explained as a sign of distrust in the hired planes, but now it appeared that the airforce did not trust their own aircraft, he said.

The Bombadier was initially chartered for three month while Inkwazi was being overhauled but that contract has now been extended.



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